The 5 Most Important U.S. GDP Statistics and How to Use Them

The 5 GDP Statistics You Need to Know

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Personal consumption drives nearly 70% of U.S. GDP. Photo: Getty Images

1. U.S. GDP 

U.S. GDP was $18.861 trillion in the Fourth Quarter 2016. What exactly does this mean? The gross domestic product of the United States of America ran at a rate of $18.8 trillion a year from October through December 2016. This statistic is also known as nominal GDP. (Source: National Income and Product Accounts Interactive Data, Table 1.1.5. Gross Domestic Product, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)

U.S. GDP is the economic output of the entire country. It includes goods and services produced in the United States, regardless of whether the company is foreign-owned, or the person providing the service is a U.S. citizen. To find out the total economic output for all American citizens and companies, regardless of their geographic location, you'd want to look at U.S. gross national product, also known as gross national income.

U.S. GDP is the most important economic indicator, because it tells you the health of the economy. There are four major components of GDP:

  • Personal Consumption Expenditures - All the goods and services produced for household use. This is almost 70 percent of total GDP.
  • Business Investment - Goods and services purchased by the private sector.
  • Government Spending - This includes federal, state and local governments.
  • Net Exports - This is the dollar value of total exports minus total imports.

    Here's the four other important U.S. GDP statistics you need to know:

    2. Debt to GDP Ratio

    The U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio is 105.9 percent. That's the $19.976 trillion U.S. debt as of December 30, 2016, (which is the end of Q4 2016) divided by the $18.861 trillion nominal GDP. It's used to determine whether a country has enough income each year to pay off its debt.

     (Source: "Debt to the Penny," U.S. Treasury)

    The only other time the debt-to-GDP ratio was this high was to fund World War II. Following that, it remained at a safe level (below 70 percent) until the 2008 financial crisis. That's when the combination of lower taxes and higher government spending pushed the debt-to-GDP ratio to unsafe levels. For each year's U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio since 1930, see National Debt by Year.

    3. Real GDP

    U.S. real GDP was $16.804 trillion for Q4 2016. This measure takes nominal GDP, quoted above, and strips out the effects of inflation. That's why it's usually lower than nominal GDP. 

    It's the best statistic to compare U.S. output year-over-year. That's why it's used to calculate the GDP growth rate. It's also used to calculate GDP per capita.  (Source: National Income and Product Accounts Interactive Data, Table 1.1.6. Real Gross Domestic Product, Chained Dollars, Bureau of Economic Analysis)

    4. GDP Growth Rate

    The U.S. GDP growth rate was 1.9 percent for Q4 2016. This indicator measures the percent increase in economic output since the last quarter or year. It's the best way to assess U.S. economic growth. For more, see Current GDP Statistics. To compare to prior years, see U.S. GDP History.

    5. GDP per Capita

    In 2016, the U.S. real GDP per capita was $57,300. This indicator tells you the economic output by person. It's the best way to compare GDP between different countries. For that reason, it must use purchasing power parity to measure GDP. This levels the playing field between countries because it compares a basket of similar good, taking out the effects of exchange rates.  For how the United States compares to other countries, see GDP per Capita.  (Source: CIA World Factbook

    GDP In Depth